Catching Up With Hydroflex CEO Rich Ciesco On New Surfboard Technology

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A close up of how the Hydroflex technology actually works.

Photos: Nicholas Borrelli, Bufo Portrait/Hydroflex Surfboards

It is amazing what can come out of great intelligence, a bit of ingenuity, and a large dose of thinking outside of the surfing box. The future is here for surfboard construction and technology with the rise of Hydroflex Surfboards, a  company that has developed  a strong lamination bonding process.

Bred from the inventive mind of German-born innovator and shaper Bufo Brauers, and led at the business helm by CEO Rich Ciesco, the Hydroflex surfboard construction is based on a patented 3D-lamination process, which multiplies the bonding surface and strengths between the resin, cloth, and core. Delamination is eliminated by anchoring the laminate into the foam core, creating a board with superior performance and responsiveness. Surfer and shaper Brauers, who partnered with the German car manufacturer Volkswagon to refine and test the process, developed this technique to produce high-performance surfboards with flex characteristics after years of research and development.

While the technology is truly fascinating, Hydroflex also stands apart on a  business level. The company has shared its spin on surfboard technology with local shapers like …Lost, Surf Prescriptions, Bradley, Roberts, and Bufo. The list of available boards is extensive, and if the customer doesn’t see what they want, Hydroflex will help source or create the perfect custom board. The beauty of the process is that Hydroflex will work with any shaper out there, so you can contact your favorite and Ciesco’s crew will work with them to get your board built.

Transworld Business recently rolled up to Oceanside to spend the morning in the Hydroflex factory and pick the brain of business maven Ciesco. Here’s what we found out.

For those who are not familiar with your company, tell us about the beginnings of Hydroflex surfboards and it’s origins?

Hydroflex was developed out of the desire to build better performance surfboards. Over the lifetime of a board it slowly loses the characteristics that we as surfers want out of a board like its flex and pop. Delamination is another problem that most surfers have dealt with and we wanted to find a way to overcome this. Rouven “Bufo” Brauers is the mad scientist behind the process and driving force behind innovation at the company. With the idea of plant structures in mind, he engineered this unique process to produce high-performance surfboards with proven flex characteristics. He developed the process over 8 years of trial and error. In the end he came up with our 3D lamination process. 

What is the Hydroflex surfboard glassing process?

All Hydroflex surfboard construction is based on this 3D-lamination process. This unique 3-dimensional bonding structure is used to glass the board, which multiplies the bonding surface and strength between resin, cloth and core. Delamination is overcome by anchoring the laminate into the foam core, creating a board with superior performance and responsiveness, plus extended longevity from your board. We root fibers and resin about ¼” down into the foam which act like roots of a tree. Both our Natural and SuperCharger constructions have this. The strong bond prevents the board from losing the flex and snap over time, which is where the added value is in our boards. They can last 2-3 times longer, which will save the consumer money in the long term. 

How did you go about securing for shaping partnerships and licenses?

Really our success is in a huge part due to the partnerships we have built. We would not be around if it was not for the partnerships we have. We have agreements with a few shapers that are a win/win for both parties. When we first launched here in the USA, many of the brands were skeptical to stock boards in a new technology because they didn’t know if the boards would sell. Lots of alternative constructions were hitting the market and were trying to get the brands to use theirs. We came to an agreement that would take that risk away from the shapers yet still allowed us to get their shapes on the market. We knew we had a great product but that could sell once we got the brand visible and so far it has worked. We hope to continue to create these types of relationships.

Our next step for growth will be to take this model of doing business and license it. We want to teach a board builder in other regions our patented process and allow them to service local shapers. Our business model is limited now because we must get a finished hand-shaped blank from the shaper. If they are not local to our facility, the costs are too great to ship a shaped blank back and forth from the east coast or other areas to our production facility in Oceanside, Ca. 

Why would shapers want to work with Hydroflex?

I think any shaper whose goal is to build the best performing board they can, will see the value is working and offering their clients our technology. We build lighter, stronger, higher performing surfboards. The super strong bonding between our laminate and foam core, keeps the board lively and snappy 2-3 times longer than traditional laminations. I think both the shaper and customer will see the value in this. We want to join forces with shapers driven by the goal to build the best surfboards on the planet and take board building to a new level. The goal is to build a strong relationship with each shaper in order to co-brand and allow each brand to grow. 

How is business looking as 2012 comes to a close and 2103 gets fired up?

We are doing extremely well. The majority of our business right now is custom orders. Sales are up over 300% from the previous year so we just hope that this momentum will carry over into 2013, which so far looks very promising.

What are your short term goals?

Our short term goal is continue to refine our current processes and offer local shapers the access to our technology. We are willing to work with any shaper who wants to use our technology and currently focusing on getting licensing partners in another regions to build surfboards for the local surfing community.

One thing we are concentrating on is breaking into other markets outside of just the standard surfboard building. Our technology really can be applied to many different board sports. One project we are planning on launching Q1 of next year is making skateboard decks for established brands using a similar bonding process that we use on our surfboards but for a deck. We have made a handful of prototypes, which have turned out amazing. We plan on working with brands to be an OEM on custom skateboard decks.

What are the long term goals?

Of course the goal is always to grow the business with long-term sustainability in mind. Our goal is always to continue to development the surfboard building process and to experiment with newer materials. We hope to move more towards more bio-friendly construction without giving up performance. These types of materials are improving and it will just be a mater of time before the switch makes sense. 

In terms of sales, right now we are just scratching the surface of the surfboard market and want to expand the amount of Hydroflex boards in people’s hands. We are focusing on expanding the number of regions we service and retailers we are in.

Who are your main partners from the shaping and surfboard community? How did you build and secure these partnerships? How do the shapers and surfboard companies benefit from signing on with Hydroflex?

Matt Biolos over at Lost was really the first guy to give us support, which continues to this day. I really admire what he has done with his brand and how he does business. Lost has had an incredible amount of momentum in the past few years which has been a major help in building our brand. Last year we also brought on Robert Weiner of Roberts Surfboards to our program, which again has increased our exposure and really enabled us to grow. Having these type of guys support us has brought legitimacy to our technology and has created more demand as well. Recently we set up agreements with Jeff “Doc” Lausch of Surf Prescriptions and Australian shaper Christiaan Bradley of Bradley Surfboards. We now offer all models from these shapers in both our Natural and SuperCharger construction.

What is your sales and distribution model?

Right now we are in a small number of key retailers in the US. You can find our boards in Huntington Surf and Sport, Jacks, Real Water Sports, Catalyst, Brave New World, Rider Shack, ZJ’s, and Hawaiian South Shore to name a few. We can take orders directly from shops or customers for and models from Lost, Roberts, Surf Prescriptions, Bradley and Bufo in the Hydroflex constructions.

Recently we also launched a custom online order shop through our website. A customer can pick the model they want, then specify their own dimensions, fin system, glassing schedule and color scheme. Because our manufacturing process works with hand shaped blanks and not molds, we can make specific adjustments for the customer to fit their surfing and location.

Why should retailers carry Hydroflex boards?

Well, if you try one out you will know why. Every Hydroflex Board comes with a patented and multiple awarded 3D-lamination, which is totally unique on the market. Retailers can serve an outstanding technology to new-school surfers looking for the best strength-to-weight ratio as well as a flexible and lively feel, when riding a Hydroflex board. Right now we can offer the complete range of shapes from short boards by Lost, Roberts, Bradley, Surf Prescriptions, Takayama, Bufo and Carl Ekstroem’s asymmetrical boards.  

What are your new boards that you are the most stoked about- process, tech, etc.?

Early next year we will be launching a new high-end full carbon surfboard construction. Unlike other carbon fiber boards built by other manufacturers, our carbon fiber boards will come hand-shaped and 100% customizable, not built from molds.

Also we recently launched a TechSeries wake surfboard with The Walker Project. These boards are built with all high-end fabrics including carbon fiber and a Kevlar weave to built into the board. These boards came out amazing and our goal will be to get more into these high-end customs as well. 

Long story short, we have a lot of exciting things in the works and if even half of them make it to market, I think it will really push more options to the consumer.